THE BEGINNING of the festive month of December traditionally sees early-winter blues give way to excitement and expectancy, as Hull City can certainly vouch for this morning.
For midfielder Tom Huddlestone, it arrives as a particularly timely tonic, with the Tigers’ dramatic and history-making EFL Cup shoot-out victory over Newcastle United going down as nicely as that warming first Yuletide glass of mulled wine.
Huddlestone, recalled for Tuesday night’s encounter, struck home the Tigers’ third penalty in the 3-1 triumph, with Eldin Jakupovic then doing his bit to deny Yoan Gouffran with his second spot-kick save as Hull joyously booked their place in the semi-finals of the League Cup in its various guises for the first time.
As has been their wont this season, Mike Phelan’s side did things the hard way in heroically overcoming the dismissal of Dieumerci Mbokani to produce a famous, if unlikely, result.
The dramatic events late on Tuesday could not serve as anything other than an inspiration, with Huddlestone seeing no reason why it cannot act as a catalyst for both team and self ahead of a key December league itinerary which sees the Tigers take on fellow strugglers Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and West Ham.
A fateful final month of 2016 also sees Huddlestone head back to White Hart Lane to face old club Tottenham Hotspur and celebrate his 30th birthday milestone over Christmas.
Gloss on his celebrations will arrive if he can play a leading role in Hull picking up a healthy haul of points – with the incentive of places being up for grabs in a League Cup semi-final early in the New Year now being another consideration.
Huddlestone, whose last league start came on October 22, said: “It has been disappointing in the past few weeks not to be starting or coming on.
“With the manager making changes for Newcastle, it was up to us to play well and get a positive result and try and force our way back in the team, starting on Monday (at Middlesbrough). But, if not, over the Christmas period.
“Hopefully, I will get a few games as soon as possible and make it difficult for him to keep me out of the team.”
On the events of Tuesday providing a stimulus to Hull’s Premier League campaign, he added: “Hopefully, it will. We need to knuckle down and start to pick up points, home and away.
“With there being probably five weeks until the semi-finals, it also gives the lads a chance to play well in the league; while there is also a semi-final to make sure you play to stay in the team as well.
“I was not conscious that the club had not previously made it to the semi-finals until Harry Maguire said it in the press conference before the game.
“But, in the three-and-a-half years I have been here, we seem to have ticked off a few boxes for the first time for the club, so it is nice to be a part of another one.
“It was nice to score a penalty. I feel confident enough to take them and when our keeper makes saves before I take mine, it makes you relax a bit more and not be so worried about missing.”
Attention switches to Hull’s huge game up the east coast at Middlesbrough on Monday evening as the Tigers seek another memorable occasion against north-east opposition.
If Hull require any extra incentive, it is provided by the shattering Riverside events on March 18, when a dramatic last-gasp home winner from David Nugent broke visiting hearts in a psychologically damaging loss for the Tigers.
With the benefit of hindsight, it proved the night when the club’s quest for automatic promotion ultimately ended – with Huddlestone admitting that Monday night’s encounter also comes with a major amount of significance attached to it.
He added: “Last season, we were both trying to finish in the top two and beating us in the way they did was devastating at the time. But we both got to where we wanted to be and both want to stay here now.
“They have had a few positive results against the bigger teams recently and we saw their quality last season and they added to that. Fair play to them.
“But the bottom half of the league is very tight and if we had nicked a win against West Brom, we would have probably been several places higher.
“It is still all to play for and, hopefully, the cup win will have given us confidence going into that and we can stamp our authority on the game rather than claw a victory from defeat.
“One of the things the manager has spoken about is going ahead in games and collectively, we have mentioned it as well.
“We have come from behind in a few games recently, but we need to start taking the initiative in the games a bit earlier rather than chasing back.”